10 reasons to visit North Walsham
- Credit: citizenside.com
It's a gateway to North Norfolk that was founded in Anglo-Saxon times and was once a centre for weaving that created a prosperous, thriving town. Boasting a famous face who spent his schooldays in the town and a magical kingdom filled with curiosities, there are many reasons to visit North Walsham, but here are our top 10.
1) Davenport's Magic Kingdom: The Cremation Illusion. Stretching a Lady. The Girl Without a Middle. Maskelyne's Spirit Cabinet. The Wrist Chopper. The Vanishing Handkerchief Gun. These are just a handful of the astonishing exhibits at one of Norfolk's most magical attractions. Next to the skeleton remains of industrial units past, it's an incongruous yet strangely fitting venue for a magical kingdom where curiosities and enchantment lie in wait for those that pass through the doors. Davenport's Magic Kingdom houses a fraction of the famous Davenport family's collection of vintage magic ephemera in a 15,000sq ft warehouse, plus an interactive exhibition– which takes visitors on a journey through the history of British magic, a theatre where magic shows take place daily, a shop filled with wonder and a café for hungry magic fans. Inside, the walls are filled with the most fantastical exhibits: the unicorn and lion from the Exhibition of Great Britain in 1951, back drops used by magicians through the last century hang from the ceiling, giant moth wings that were part of an act, hundreds of vintage posters, stage sets, Punch and Judy boxes, the famous prop used to saw winsome ladies in half, ventriloquists' dummies, a headless lady, a plant with teeth, Houdini's water torture cell… it's an Aladdin's Cave for those that love magic.
2) Norfolk Motorcycle Museum: If you're mad about motorbikes, this is museum is the perfect place to take in on a two-wheeled tour of the county. Currently displaying more than 160 classic motorcycles from the 1920s to 1980s from Britain, Europe, America and Japan, the museum is a treasure trove for petrol heads who love looking back over decades of design.
The museum is almost 25 years old and also houses mopeds, bicycles and a wide range of toys. A lovely way to while away a few hours.
3) The Bittern Line: The scenic Bittern Line runs through North Walsham connecting Norwich with the north Norfolk coastal towns of Cromer and Sheringham via the Broads at Salhouse, Hoveton and Wroxham. The 30-mile route serves a number of towns and villages and also links up with the Weaver's Way, which can be joined at North Walsham. The walk leaves North Walsham on the old railway trackbed to Aylsham and follows a patchwork of country lanes and footpaths to wind through Blickling, Aldborough, Hanworth and Felbrigg to Cromer – you can also take the route to the golden sands of Great Yarmouth.
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4) Beechwood Hotel: It'd be criminal not to visit this boutique bolt-hole in the centre of the town which was once a regular haunt of powerhouse crime writer Agatha Christie. She often stayed from the 1930s until the 1960s when it was the private home of doctors Peter and Margaret McLeon, who had befriended Christie and her husband at an archaeological dig in what is now Iraq. The author would travel to North Walsham by train and stay for a month at a time, writing in a summerhouse by day while her hosts went to work. Evenings were often spent discussing topics which Christie found incredibly useful – if not the most tasteful subjects for the dinner table – such as the onset of rigor mortis and the effectiveness of various poisons. In more recent years, celebrity guests have included Eric Clapton, Jeremy Clarkson, Queen drummer Roger Taylor, Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason and Mike Rutherford from Genesis. If you can't stay, how about taking afternoon tea in the surroundings that inspired Ms Christie?
5) Paston School: Sir William Paston saw triumph in tragedy and, after North Walsham's disastrous fire of 1600 which began 'in the house of a poor and lewd person by the name of Dowle, who on fleeing was apprehended and put in gaol' and led to the destruction of 118 houses, 70 shops and countless other buildings including the market with its Cross. Paston bought up several acres of scorched land, cheaply, and built Sir William Paston's Gramma School which began teaching students in 1606. A new schoolhouse was built in 1765 and four years later, the school received William and Horatio Nelson as boarders. Visit Sir William's elaborate tomb in St Nicholas' Parish Church, which he commissioned himself, two years before his death in 1610.
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6) Cat pottery: The Winstanley Cats have been made in a North Walsham pottery a few yards from the town centre for more than four decades and each feline is completely unique. A wonderfully eclectic place to visit and spend a very unusual hour or so browsing through a distinctly catty collection.
7) The Market Cross and a clock that now tells the time: The market cross was erected during the reign of Edward VI by Bishop Thirlby of Norwich and took five years until it was completed in 1555. Just 45 years later, it was destroyed in the fire mentioned above and was rebuilt by Bishop Redman in 1602. A one-handed clock was acquired from nearby Worstead Hall in 1787 but it took until 1856 until a minute hand was added. In 1899, funds from the North Walsham Steeplechase were used to buy a new chiming clock (with requisite hands). The cross has been restored several times and has literally been in the wars – during the Second World War, the weathervane blew off when a bomb exploded nearby. A piece of ancient oak removed from the cross during a 1984 renovation was locally carved as a representation of Christ's head and presented to the town's twin town in Bavaria. The cross is Grade I listed and a National Monument.
8) Remember the revolting Peasants: In 1381, North Walsham was under siege. John Liester, assisted by Cubitt of North Walsham, led a rebellion of many thousands who seized Norwich but were eventually forced back by Bishop Henry Despenser's forces. The rebels retreated to a camp at Bryant's Heath near North Walsham where they were confronted again by the Bishop's army. It is said that thousands were killed as they fled to the town – some barricaded themselves into the unfinished parish church where a further massacre ensued. Three stone crosses were erected to mark the site of the battlefield, which is one of only five recognised by Norfolk County Council. One is on private land, another was relocated in 1932 and can be found near the town's water towers and the third is a parish boundary marker on Toff's Loke, off Norwich Road.
9) If you go down to the woods today… Pigneys wood is a mile and half away from North Walsham and is owned and managed by The North Norfolk Community Woodland Trust. Volunteers work at wood, which is an enchanting blend of mature woodland, new woodland, open ground and wet grassland and which is a haven for wildlife. There's a 450-year-old oak tree, a dipping platform for children to examine pond-life and plenty of designated walks or picnic areas.
10) The English Iris Company: Based just outside the town, The English Iris Company is the legacy of Bryan Dodsworth who spent nearly 50 yaers developing an extraordinary, and beautiful, collection of tall bearded irises. When he died in 2009, his son Simon was determined to keep the collection alive and formed the company which promotes British irises and offers previously unavailable variations of the plant for sale. The company opens its gardens on certain days throughout the year and offers talks to societies that must be pre-booked.
• What do you like most about North Walsham? Let us know in the comments below.